Also known as fire rated partitions, fire partitions are freestanding walls or structures within a building that have the specific purpose of retarding the progress of a fire. While not the same as a fire barrier, a properly constructed fire partition can provide valuable time that increases the chances of evacuating the space before anyone is injured. In many jurisdictions, local building codes include specific criteria that a fire partition must meet in order to be included in a building design.
One of the major differences between a fire partition and a fire barrier is that the barrier is typically more stable than the partition. A barrier will normally extend through ceilings and floors, effectively creating another wall that the fire must work through before reaching the next section of the building. In contrast, a fire partition does not extend through a ceiling or floor and is not connected to the roof. In some cases, a partition may not even touch the ceiling within a given chamber, a factor that also tends to decrease the overall stability of the structure.
It is important to note that a fire partition is usually not expected to completely stop a fire from spreading. The idea is to slow down the progress of the fire so that anyone in the burning structure has a small amount of additional time to escape. The presence of the partition also means that the overall damage to the building is minimized, assuming that the fire is brought under control before the protective construction is breached.
Most jurisdictions that allow the inclusion of a fire partition in a new building design will require that the construction meet specific safety requirements that are found in local building codes. Those requirements may be specific in terms of the types of building materials used to construct the partition, as well as the thickness of the safety device and how it is anchored to the flooring. The idea is to make sure the materials do in fact aid in slowing down the progress of a fire, and that the partition is stable enough to avoid weakening the overall soundness of the structure.
There is some difference of opinion when it comes to determining if a fire partition is more effective than a fire barrier. Supporters tend to claim the partition offers protection that is at least as effective as the barrier, but will cost less to construct. Detractors note that the decrease in stability associated with a fire partition is not really worth the difference in construction costs, and could mean the loss of a few valuable seconds of time in the event that a fire does break out.